Generally peaceful rallies in Metro

THERE was a generally peaceful situation in Metro Manila and the rest of the country as of 2 p.m. yesterday as the Philippine National Police went on heightened alert and barred protesters from rallying in the streets during the 5th State-of-the-Nation-Address by President Duterte.

In Metro Manila, members of the National Capital Region Police Office under Major General Debold M. Sinas strictly inspected buses and public utility vehicles for possible presence of unauthorized protesters.

In Caloocan City, police stopped the drivers of five passenger jeepneys found to be carrying members of Migrante as they attempted to pass by along Sitio Matarik in Barangay 175 in Camarin going to the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City.

PNP chief, General Archie Francisco F. Gamboa said the order for the police was to stop street protests amid fears it would contribute to the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

“Today is a significant day to celebrate democracy and national unity as we anticipate and prepare to witness President Rodrigo Duterte deliver the State of the Nation address before the joint houses of Congress.

It is during momentous times like this that we are reminded of our responsibility as your Philippine National Police to ensure that the President shall be able to perform this duty while maintaining the peace and order of our country,” the PNP chief said.

Gen. Gamboa said they have “issued a warning against the holding of mass protests and public assemblies, bearing in mind the need to comply with the rules on social distancing.”

“ With the public’s health primordial in our minds, the PNP will perform its mandate to enforce the law, strictly and in accordance with IATF regulations.

Regular law enforcement  is  complicated by the public safety function to implement all state regulations on public health and safety imposed by health authorities in response to the pandemic, but we will not shirk from our responsibility to serve and protect you,” he added.

According to the PNP chief, a  sizable contingent of PNP personnel was deployed in different locations as the need arises to undertake Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) operations simultaneously with public safety operations to enforce public health protocols and minimum health standards in the venues of mass actions and convergence points.

“Guided by President Duterte’s specific instructions to allow free expression and public assembly, and prevent violent confrontation between government forces and rallyists, the general guidance to police units is to observe maximum tolerance at all times, even when provoked.

We respect the right of the participants to free expression and assembly. We will uphold as well the right of non-participants to unhampered access to our streets and thoroughfares,” he said.

“Overall, please allow me to reiterate our underlying consideration, which is public health and safety. We offer no room for compromise to our firm stand to achieve this objective. To this end, we remain persistent in our appeal for alternative forms of expressive exercise of individual rights and civil liberties that will not risk widespread COVID-19 contamination.

Those who will insist on staging public assemblies in the privacy of chartered jurisdictions, we hold them accountable for their actions, including the safety of participants to their activities. We also welcome the commitment of Local Government Units in discouraging public assemblies and protest actions within their areas,” he said.

Gen. Gamboa said he has ordered the NCRPO to arrest those who will stage protest rallies outside UP Campus since they are violating the ‘no permit, no rally’ rule.

The PNP chief said they have asked the Q.C. government to designate officers who will collect fines and issue receipts to those who will be caught violating the health protocols so that they can be immediately released and won’t clog police jails anymore.

The PNP went on heightened alert as it prepared to prevent protest rallies during the President’s address amid warnings by authorities that mass gatherings remain to be the fastest way to spread the dreaded COVID-19 virus.

The PNP Highway Patrol Group headed by Brig. Gen. Eliseo DC Cruz was also ordered to accost drivers of buses and PUVs operating ‘out-of-line’ to transport protesters to Batasan Pambansa.

However, police allowed  peaceful and orderly mass gatherings inside the University of the Philippines campus in Q.C. provided that the protesters wear face masks and observe social distancing.

Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año  earlier ordered all mayors in MECQ and GCQ areas to strictly comply with IATF Resolution No. 57 issued last July 21 which strictly reiterated that mass gatherings such as but not limited to movie screenings, sporting events and other entertainment activities, community assemblies and non-essential work gatherings are prohibited, subject only to very limited exceptions  stated in Section 4, Paragraph 12 of the Omnibus Guidelines on the implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines as amended.

As such, local chief executives in Metro Manila and other areas under MECQ or GCQ and as well as those which reverted back to ECQ such as Cebu City and San Fernando City in La Union province were  directed to refrain from issuing permits for rallies and demonstrations in time with the President’s SONA  in order to further promote the health and safety of the public.